by Andrea Niepold
I’m in favor of single-payer health care, free state-college tuition, and a fairer system of taxation. But I believe that a vote for Bernie in the upcoming Pennsylvania primary, or a refusal to vote for Hillary in the general election, will take us backward instead of forward toward these progressive goals.
So, what kind of progressive am I? The kind who joined the March on Washington in 1963. Who picketed the ‘64 Democratic Convention to seat the Mississippi Freedom Delegation. Who wore out shoe leather protesting the Vietnam War and was tear gassed at the Pentagon in 1967. In 1968, I cast my first presidential vote – for Dick Gregory.
I have regretted it ever since.
Like many of my peers, and many of those who had elected Lyndon Johnson in a landslide just four years earlier, I was convinced that the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was not the lesser of two evils, but evil itself, LBJ’s partner in crime. But in retrospect, I believe that all of us who voted for third-party or independent candidates, or just stayed home on Election Day, enabled the election of Richard Nixon.
The consequence was a pointlessly prolonged war in Vietnam, the bombing of Cambodia, and the subsequent rise of the Khmer Rouge – a forerunner of ISIS and equally vicious. The Kent State killings, enemies’ lists and all the Watergate-related crimes pale in comparison.
So in 1972, I was thrilled to vote for liberal reformer George McGovern – the Bernie Sanders of that era – who lost 49 states to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. What a pair! Within a year, the vice president was forced to resign in face of corruption charges; the president’s resignation, to avoid impeachment and certain conviction, followed less than a year later.
Fast forward to the presidential election of 2000. Like the majority of Americans, I voted for Al Gore. But some idealists of my children’s generation, and just enough Florida retirees dealing with a confusing ballot, voted for Ralph Nader. Those votes, intentional or not, enabled the Supreme Court to make George W. Bush President of the United States. The consequences of that election echo those of 1972 – a bungled invasion of Afghanistan, the Iraq War, the expansion of Al Qaida and its even more murderous offshoots like Boko Haram and the Islamic State. The Katrina disaster and failure of the financial system pale in comparison.
So here we are in 2016, choosing between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Despite supporting Bernie’s policies, I know that one presidential election does not create a political revolution. And though I dislike Hillary’s hawkishness and her obvious shifting with the political winds, I will vote for her on the grounds that she is better prepared to be president, and more likely to make progress, albeit incremental, toward the goals of greater justice and equality that we share.
I am also convinced that Sanders, like McGovern, is unelectable – current polls to the contrary notwithstanding. We know Hillary’s flaws, real and imagined – the Republican right has been beating up on her for more than 20 years, so it’s no wonder her approval ratings are low. Just wait ‘til they get started on Bernie! They’ll hang the hammer and sickle around his neck and frighten voters with lies and exaggerations about all of his proposals. And if the Republican Party comes to its senses and nominates a reasonable alternative to Trump or Cruz at an open convention, a 1972-style debacle might even be possible.
So all you Bernie bros and sisters, hold your nose if you must but join me in voting for Hillary, if not now then in November. And I’ll join your political revolution where it can actually succeed, as a grass roots movement at the state level. If progressives can get together around the country to elect Democratic legislatures and governors, we can begin to undo partisan gerrymandering and restrictive voting laws, making the states true “laboratories of democracy” as a first step toward achieving our shared vision for the nation as a whole.
Andrea Niepold is a Chestnut Hill resident.